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Training

One thing that I've learned over the years of flying skydivers is that there is not enough proper training of the new Jump Pilots that get hired. There is no kind of Jump Pilot Rating or even a "sign off" requirement. Sometimes I think that there should be.

If you are a newly hired Jump Pilot, get familiar with the FARs that govern skydiving. Ask your DZO if they have a Training Syllabus, if they do not, you can find one on my Resources page. While on that page, be sure and watch the video "Flying for Skydiving Operations". Also, if you are currently a Jump Pilot, remember to not get complacent and to review often! Finally, if you have ANY questions at all feel free to email me (chris@caravanpilot.com) I love helping my fellow pilots.

Below you will find the "Jump Pilot Training" portion of the FAA publication "Flying for Skydiving Operations". It has a lot of important information contained in it.

Jump Pilot Training
Training from experienced jump pilots and Drop Zone (DZ) operators is the best way to learn how to fly skydivers. First, gain a thorough knowledge of the airplane and its systems, especially the fuel system. Then practice typical jump plane maneuvers: gross-weight takeoffs, best-rate climbs, slow flight, door operation, and maintaining airspeed and heading on jump run and with skydivers on the step. Simulate engine-out scenarios at every opportunity, including after takeoff, so that pitching forward to maintain airspeed is a natural reaction. Mentally note the fields and available areas around the airport that can be used for an emergency landing. Finally, always begin each takeoff roll with the expectation that the engine will fail on that flight. Be prepared!

Pilot Preparation

  • Have a current weather briefing, including winds aloft.

  • File a NOTAM with the nearest Flight Service Station.

  • Determine jump run direction and altitude (be sure to convert AGL to MSL).

  • Determine who is the jumpmaster or loadmaster for the flight.

Aircraft Inspection

  • Jump planes are flown hard and endure more takeoffs and landings than most other aircraft. A thorough preflight inspection is essential to each day.

  • Look for cracked and loosened components around the spinner, engine cowling, inflight doors, and landing gear.

  • Check propeller for nicks and scratches.

  • Check tires and brakes.

  • Check the oil quantity.

  • Check fuel tanks often with a calibrated fuel stick; do not rely on fuel gauges. Use only approved aviation fuels. Research has shown that the vast majority of jump plane accidents were the result of fuel exhaustion, fuel starvation, or fuel contamination.

  • Conduct an engine runup and aircraft systems check.

Loading the Aircraft

An aircraft both overweight and out-of-balance is on the verge of being uncontrollable.

  • Determine the aircraft's weight and center of gravity (CG). The maximum takeoff weight is found in the aircraft manual. The center of gravity can be calculated from charts also found in the aircraft manual.

  • Ensure that the aircraft stays within its weight and balance limitations. This includes the weight of each occupant and his or her associated gear - parachute, jumpsuit, helmet, etc.

  • Occupants must be secured with a seat belt or other approved restraint prior to taxi. All equipment should be secured or restrained.

The Takeoff

  • If multiple jump planes are operating, constant vigilance for landing parachutes is necessary when taxiing and taking off.

  • In Cessnas, the fuel selector is in a location where it can be inadvertently switched off. Check it prior to and during each takeoff for proper position.

  • Have a pre-planned action for every possible event, including engine failure (e.g., have alternative emergency landing areas in mind).

The Climb

  • Climb angles often impede the front view from the flight deck. Use shallow turns (usually to the left), which also serve as clearing turns.

  • Avoid busy victor airways or established arrival or departure routes.

  • Monitor power settings and engine temperatures to maximize the climb performance while minimizing engine overheating.

  • At any point during the flight, the aircraft should be in a position to safely glide back to the airport if the engine fails.

The Jump Run

  • Every jump plane has a target speed for the jump run. For Cessna, it is generally between 80 and 90 mph. Find the power setting that maintains the jump run altitude and target airspeed.

  • Determine the desired spot for dropping jumpers. The spot is the skydivers' predetermined exit point over the ground, and it is nearly always upwind of the intended landing area.

  • The jump pilot must assess whether releasing the jumpers will compromise safety. If so, the jumpers must be held until all conditions are clear for the jump.

  • Winds at altitude can have a large influence on the spot, even though the skydivers are free-falling through it. (A 30 mph wind at 12,500 AGL can move a group of free-falling jumpers a half-mile from their exit point.)

  • A jumpmaster will fine-tune the aircraft's alignment over the spot.

  • It is vital that the pilot maintain a healthy margin above stall speed to prevent a stall on the jump run.

  • With student skydivers, the jumpmaster will often call for reduced power to assist jumper climb-out. Use pitch to maintain airspeed.

  • On jumper climb-out, the pilot may need additional control inputs to counter the effect of skydivers on the step. Many jump planes with a rear door can have their aft CG exceeded if many jumpers mass in or near the door on a jump run.

  • When jumpers have exited, notice ATC of "jumpers away" and advise the controller of your next maneuver.

Descent

  • A Cessna's inflight door can be closed with a yaw maneuver that will need to be practiced. Make sure that the door is securely latched.

  • Set up a descent consistent with safety, and guarding against shock cooling. Each operator will have a preferred airspeed for descent. For Cessnas, descent speeds are in the 140 mph range. This speed should result in a 1,000-1,200 fpm descent rate.

  • Use carburetor heat during descent; Cessnas are susceptible to carburetor ice.

  • At any point, the aircraft should be in a position to glide to the airport if necessary.

  • Remember that descending turns serve well as clearing turns, and make sure that all of your exterior lights are on.

  • Keep a tight traffic pattern. The aircraft should be able to glide to the airport in the event of a power loss.

  • Ensure that the aircraft remains clear of the skydiver airspace.
     

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